Thursday, August 31, 2006

Four laws of ecology

Barry Commoner's Four laws of ecology:

1. Everything is connected to everything else.
2. Everything must go somewhere.
3. Nature knows best.
4. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

From The Closing Circle: Nature, Man, and Technology, 1971.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Ecosystem of globalization - research proposal

I assembled a research proposal on the "ecosystem of globalization", using the concept of "ecological revolution" to test the idea of globalization as an "epochal shift." The research proposal was done as, well, as homework for a research methods seminar; the quantitative research was never done, but I did do a paper, or two papers out of the literature review ("Speculative capital and the ecosystem of globalization", a longer, more rambling piece, and a condensed version, "The ecosystem of globalization").

I tried to think about how one identifies an "ecological revolution", in order to know if the investigation would show that there is an "ecosystem of globalization" emerging. I proposed looking at the environmental impact of three (speculative) financial structures associated with globalization; and assessing them according to seven categories. Here's the section that laid out my criteria:

Categories for assessing ecosystem impact

Non-human categories (after Simmons, 1996)

(1) Biological productivity: A significant change moves the ecosystem from one type to another, where types are identified as forest; woodland, grassland or savannah; desert; cultivated land; urban; other terrestrial. The rationale is that each of these ecosystem types has a distinct net primary productivity (Simmons, 1996), and a shift from one ecosystem to another indicates a shift in biological productivity.

(2) Population dynamics and diversity: A significant change includes the removal of a keystone species, a key engineer species, or extinction, e.g. associated with unique habitat loss.

(3) Stability: A significant change is indicated by a potential change in (1) or (2).

Human-nature categories (after Merchant, 1989)

(4) Production process, including economic productivity: A significant change in the production process is indicated by a new form of motive power or central technology (e.g., the steam engine, the microchip (Davis, 2000))

(5) Social reproduction process: A significant change in the reproduction process is indicated by new productive relations.

(6) Property forms: A significant change in property forms is indicated in types of ownership or a changed the relationship of the owner to the thing owned. E.g., significant changes include a change from common ownership to private ownership, or single owner to corporate ownership, or tenant owner to absentee owner.

(7) Consciousness (representations of nature, narrative, ways of thinking about nature): A significant change in consciousness is indicated by a change in narrative (e.g., from progressive to declensionist, or declensionist to recovery), or change in valence (a role or character reversal, e.g., from nature as Eden to nature as vengeful), or a change in mode of participation (e.g., from subject-object to partnership) (Merchant, 1995).

For example, one identified impact of timber REITs is an increase in land ownership turnover (Block and Sample, 2001; Hagan, Irland and Whitman, 2005). After examining the impact of turnover, timber REITs might be categorized as:

-- signficant to stability (3) (e.g., rapid turnover has the potential of leading to clear-cutting or parcelization that leads to a change in ecosystem type or habitat loss), property forms (6);

-- insignificant to population dynamics and diversity (2) (i.e., some insignificant change is expected), (7) owners' and local inhabitants' way of thinking about the forest;

-- not applicable to biological productivity (1), economic productivity (4) and social reproduction (5).

In the case of land turnover, the applicable effects might be deemed to be relevant at the local and possibly regional level, but not at the global level.

[See the proposal for the references]


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Dialectical materialism

An addition to the Wikipedia entry on dialectical materialism:

New discoveries in physics (including x-rays, electrons, and the beginnings of quantum mechanics) challenged previous conceptions of matter and materialism. Matter seemed to be disappearing. Lenin disagreed:

'Matter disappears' means that the limit within which we have hitherto known matter disappears and that our knowledge is penetrating deeper; properties of matter are disappearing that formerly seemed absolute, immutable and primary, and which are now revealed to be relative and characteristic only of certain states of matter. For the sole 'property' of matter with whose recognition philosophical materialism is bound up is the property of being an objective reality, of existing outside of the mind.

Lenin was following on from the work of Engels, who had noted that "with each epoch-making discovery even in the sphere of natural science, materialism has to change its form." (Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy.) One of Lenin's challenges was distancing materialism as a viable philosophical outlook from what he referred to as the "vulgar materialism" expressed in statements like "the brain secretes thought in the same way as the liver secretes bile" (attributed to 18th century physician Pierre Jean Georges Cabanis, 1757-1808); "metaphysical materialism" (matter is composed of immutable, unchanging particles); and 19th-century "mechanical materialism" (matter was like little molecular billiard balls interacting according to simple laws of mechanics). Lenin's (and Engels') solution to this challenge was "dialectical materialism", where matter was understood in the broader sense of "objective reality" and consistent with new developments in science.